A letter from former Artistic Director, Dominic Dromgoole
A letter to the next Artistic Director.
Dear Fearless, and Fortunate soul,
Twenty years ago, Mark Rylance and Lennie James led a company in a modern dress production of Two Gentlemen of Verona, the first production in the new Globe. Much scholarship went into the show, and twice as much free-wheeling invention. Happily, exhilaratingly, no-one knew entirely what they were doing, and they and the audience joined to discover a new language for making theatre. An adventure was launched, which led to twenty continuous years of chance-taking, boldness and surprise. Six people in pyjamas doing Cymbeline; scrupulous Original Practice work; throwing a roof on the building for Titus Andronicus; building rose gardens in the yard for Merry Wives; and yes, phantasmagorias of light and sound for last year’s Dream; and brute urbanising for Imogen. Shakespeare done with freedom and a curiosity to match the audience’s.
That is the Globe tradition. It was new, and it is still new. A newness that begins again every afternoon and every evening when the audience come in and draw their breath at the sun, the wood, the colour, the swirl of it all, and each other. Newness is not easy for everyone. The bile towards the Globe was there at the beginning, was felt keenly by Mark, was ever-present in my time, and spilled out last autumn hideously from those both pro- and anti-Emma Rice. It goes with the territory. The Globe is forever breaking moulds, that inspires fear, and fear can lead to loathing. The rush of energy that accompanies the new, and the roar of approval from those happy to climb on board is more than ample compensation. Dear Fearless and Fortunate Soul, above all else keep the Globe new.
From the very start, the Globe pushed the boundaries on BAME casting, an action which we continued in my time with the natural joy of walking into a brighter room. Emma has carried that torch. Globe gender-bending began with Shakespeare, and Mark extended it with Vanessa Redgrave as Prospero, and with three all-female companies, including Phyllida Lloyd’s first Shakespeare with a female company, a seedling which grew into a spectacular tree. We carried this on, and were proud to transfer two successful plays by women writers to the West End in my last year. Emma extended this experiment much further, and she was right to. Carry on pushing these envelopes.
Mark experimented with new plays, a risk that grew fast as we presented countless big new public works. New writing beside a Shakespeare is a constant reminder that Shakespeare himself was once new, and the energy of the former electrifies the latter. Emma has carried that on, and, for me, it should remain at the heart of the Globe.
The Globe’s youth creates endless opportunities. It fits no particular mould – neither subsidised nor truly commercial – so is still free to invent itself. Over the last twenty years, it has freestyled different ways of playing Shakespeare; created a small-scale touring network, both national and international; built a new theatre, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse; held a huge International Festival, and created a filming programme and a VOD platform. Contrary to some bizarre lies which have been circulating, all done within its unsubsidised means. Emma came in with a host of new directions, of new ways to facilitate artists, and with a large-scale intervention into how shows are staged.
The fact that Emma has been stopped in fulfilling her ambitions is heart-breaking. It is also wrong. The spirit of a theatre is that it should follow the lead of its artistic director. And an artistic director cannot usefully be anyone but themselves. The fact of your contract is also that, unless otherwise specified, you are free to invent as you wish. The only people who have the moral strength to get rid of you are the audience. No-one else, not the board, not your supposed colleagues, not the vulture punditry, just the audience. Emma had lost a little of the Globe audience, but all the evidence is that she had gained some as well. Please remember, F, and F Soul, that your first responsibility is to yourself, and to them.
At the heart of the Globe are, for me, two things. First the £5 ticket for the yard. Over the last twenty years that single fact has given over five million people an extraordinary experience for less than a sandwich costs. They have seen Mark in his pomp, Gemma Arterton’s Rosaline, Gugu Mbatha Raw’s Nell Gwynn, Roger Allam’s Falstaff, Eve Best’s Beatrice and Cleopatra, and countless others for only £5. It is a miracle. For all the talk of accessibility elsewhere, there is nothing equivalent to touch it. It makes many uneasy, many who espouse accessibility write with a shameful snobbery about tourists and students as if they were a sub-human species. There was also a steady pressure internally to raise that price, a pressure which Mark and I and Emma resisted. The £5 ticket is at the heart of the Globe’s success, you must fight for its survival.
The second thing at the heart of the Globe, for me, is playing in a shared light. A democratic space where a story unfolds as an imaginative agreement between text, actors and audience. It is this that Emma experimented to change, and which is at the heart of her disagreements with colleagues and the board. For me, shared light was the unique Globe tool, which subverted the orthodoxies of director’s and critic’s theatre, and which handed back to the actors and the audiences the capacity to collaborate together freely on making an imaginative experience occur. Taking away that uniqueness doesn’t strike me as radical, it strikes me as conformist. Every theatre has light and sound, the Globe didn’t. This uniqueness matters to me, and for me, F and F Soul, it is important to preserve.
However Emma didn’t come in to emulate myself, or Mark, she came in to be herself, and so she triumphantly was. As an Artistic Director myself, I respect Emma’s choice in doing so, and I cannot respect the blocking of her choice. No-one, not committees, not cabals, not connivers, no-one can set this policy but the AD. They have to make these choices with passion and conviction for the whole of the rest of a theatre to make sense. Early on in your time, you will find it invaluable to listen to the many experienced voices around you, and also invaluable to be exceptionally wary of those who do not want to advise but who want to influence. Everybody wants to be Artistic Director. They can’t all be. Only you can. It is vital, Dear F and F S, that you ring-fence with iron and steel your own freedom and ability to make choices. This must be put down in black and white, and made public, and it must be adhered to. With an ear to what the audience wants, and with an eye for where to take them, no-one should set artistic policy but the Artistic Director.
Now that Emma has carried out her experiments with light and sound, it is pointless to pretend she hasn’t. What has happened, can’t unhappen. Many felt alienated by it, many loved it. To write it out of the Globe story and say it can’t happen ever again is fundamentalist, and as daft as any form of fundamentalism. Emma’s experiment should be folded into the Globe’s story as gleefully as all the other experiments have been; new work, internationalism, modernising, design interventions. For me, the majority of the work should be in a shared light, and with natural sound, but to make it that and that only, just doesn’t add up. Dear F and F Soul, fight to keep room for manoeuvre.
You will notice, Dear F and F Soul, that some of my comments have alluded to negative energy. It would be foolish to pretend it isn’t there. The Globe has its enemies without - many don’t like the freedom of the place, its open-ness and its warmth. Some simply can’t cope with its happiness. Our culture and its commentators often prefer the shrivelled sausage to the plump one, and the Globe is fat and juicy. The degree of bile can be disabling. I have just had my own and my family’s Easter wrecked by some pathological viciousness, and I’ve been gone a year. Emma has had to put up with much worse.
Sadly the negativity doesn’t only come from without, there is also a fair sum within. There are structural problems, there are personality problems, there is too much fighting for territory, and there are too many who feel free to comment on work without ever taking the risk of making it. It is absurd that out of the mess of last year, the only person to be suffering the consequences is Emma. However the Globe is taking steps to address the problems, you have an excellent CEO in Neil Constable, who has copped too much of the blame for last year’s imbroglio while doing all he could to avoid it, and you have the best theatre department in the country. The fact that the Globe has gone on making excellent work through summer and winter, with so much distraction, is testament to their excellence. Dear F and F Soul, you will have to be prepared for tough decisions, you will have to be strong and independent, but you will have some of the best around you.
Above and beyond all else, Dear F and F Soul, if you inhabit the same office which Mark, I and Emma were blessed to sit in, every day through the long summer, you will hear at 1 o’clock, and at 6.30, a bubbling hubbub of excited chatter, and standing to look out you will see a snaking queue of four or five hundred people, eager to charge through the doors, and jostle their way to the best positions in the yard. The quality of their excitement and anticipation, of their sheer appetite for a great afternoon or evening, of their big human hope - there is no price that can be put on that. It is one of the biggest privileges in the world of theatre to be able to join with it.
Relish, enjoy, make their hopes and yours real.
All the best,